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Sudan refugees reluctant to leave Central Africa

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Feb 3, 2006 (MBOKI, CAR) — After more than 15 years as refugees in Central African Republic, not all of those who fled Sudan’s civil war want to go home even as peace returns and aid workers organise flights back.

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Sudanese refugees celebrate Refugee Day at Ikafe camp in northwest Uganda near the borders of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo June 20, 2005. (Reuters).

Central African Republic signed a deal with Sudan and the United Nations on Wednesday to assist the return of some 16,000 refugees this year, but some see little reason to move.

"It’s not worth returning home for me," said Jacques, a 19-year-old orphan in Mboki, a town in southeastern Central African Republic from where the first group of 49 Sudanese refugees flew home on Thursday.

"I lost my parents to the war and I have been here since I was young. I consider Central African Republic to be my home."

Southern Sudan’s two-decade fight for greater autonomy from Khartoum, Africa’s longest civil war, killed two million people before a peace agreement was signed in January 2005.

But despite the deal, many southern Sudanese have opted to stay in Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries, rather than return to a barren region lacking schools, hospitals, water and roads.

"I am unhappy to be returning home because I had a good time with the Central Africans," said Sudanese refugee Aissatou Marian, a mother of three who fled her homeland 15 years ago.

"But there is nothing I can do. I have to go back home to rebuild my country," she said before boarding a plane to the southwestern Sudanese town of Tambura, where the U.N.’s refugee agency said family and friends were waiting for the returnees.

The U.N. agency and the International Organisation for Migration plan regular flights carrying 600 refugees a week back to Sudan, most of them to Tambura and nearby Yambio.

There are 12,000 Sudanese refugees in Mboki, according to the United Nations. It estimates 4,000 more are scattered throughout the landlocked former French colony.

Under the 2005 peace accord, Khartoum ceded a high degree of autonomy to the south and laid out plans for a referendum on secession in six years.

Some 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers being deployed to monitor the deal have already reported serious violations so far this year.

But Sudan’s State Minister of Interior, Aleu Ayieny Aleu, promised the refugees they could return home in peace as he signed the repatriation agreement.

"The bells are ringing for us to go back," said one 50-year-old refugee, who did not want to give his name. "The signing of the peace deal is evidence that peace has returned."

(Reuters)

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